Issues with Issuu: An Open Letter to Literary Magazines

Dear literary magazines,

I’m writing you this letter to beseech you not to use Issuu and to explain why I feel so strongly about it. I will be as concise as I can, but the platform has many problems.

Let’s start with the most obvious: Nobody visiting your website on an iPhone or iPad will be able to read the work you care so much about. Issuu uses Flash, and there is no Flash on those devices. (In fact, Adobe has stopped developing mobile Flash plugins for any phone.)

It’s true that Issuu has a reader app for iOS, but that doesn’t help you when somebody clicks a link to your website from their chosen iPhone Twitter app, for example. It only helps if you put your entire publication out via the Issuu iOS Reader (which you probably don’t) and a user of the app decides to subscribe. I’d stake my reputation on that fact that most of your readers do not subscribe to any version of your content—print or, for example, RSS—and won’t likely become subscribers just to see your content in the Issuu reader.

A second, related problem is that Flash is clunky in the Mac OS. It crashes often and is notoriously slow and insecure. Personally, I have had enough seemingly Flash-based problems with Issuu that unless I have a really good reason to want to read some piece of writing presented to me in Issuu—like, maybe my wife wrote it—I usually don’t.

A third technological problem with Issuu is that web searches for content you present in Issuu don’t ever lead searchers to your site. By Issuu’s own admission, because they always host the actual content and serve it to your visitors via your embed code, searches that turn up your content will point to instead of

Maybe someday Issuu will abandon Flash (which it seems like they will have to) and come up with some unique way of delivering to you the search-engine traffic that should be yours (a task in which I’m sure they have no interest). Even then, there would be reasons to avoid them. These are mostly usability concerns, the kinds of things that ultimately cost you readers.

The usability issues that seem to matter most all stem from the fact that reading Issuu content requires switching to a full-screen interface. This makes for a worse user experience (UX) in several ways.

First, it’s a long-held tenet of web usability that the interface must prioritize “user control and freedom,” in the words of Jakob Nielsen, the godfather of the field. (Nielsen’s time-tested software interface design principles have been usefully adapted for the web by Keith Instone and Jess McMullin and Grant Skinner, among others) When a website forces users into a full-screen interface in order to read its core content, it violates this critical principle.

Second, Issuu’s particular implementation of full-screen reading also requires users to learn a new interface. The power of the web lies in its consistency across sites: I click a link; I’m on a page; I’m looking at the content I wanted to see. The browser, in other words, is the interface we have all already learned, and the one that websites should take as much advantage of as possible. (“Follow platform conventions,” writes Nielsen; Issuu doesn’t even use a standard Print icon.)

Issuu's controls
Issuu’s many controls. (Click for a larger version.)

Issuu’s interface includes not only the many little icons and buttons shown at right, but also a set of controls tied to things like your arrow keys and scroll wheel. All of this must be learned by new users, and re-learned again and again by occasional users. In its failure to provide any readily available documentation (like tips appearing, after delay, on rollover; or a single, unobtrusive “Help” link), Issuu also violates Nielsen’s final usability guideline.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to create a new interface and force users to learn it. Or really, there is one: because you are providing a new function—and there are plenty of new functions you can provide. Tweeting, for example, or playing and pausing a video. Reading is not a new function. Reading is the foundational function of the Internet. It’s the only thing—literally the only thing—that every single browser can handle, right down to text browsers and screen-readers for the visually impaired.

Speaking of the visually impaired, they can’t use Issuu—not if they’re using the specialized browsers developed for them. So if you don’t want to lose them as readers, you’d better be sure Issuu provides their browsers with an alternative form of the content. (I don’t believe it does.) Failing to do that is the smaller-scale moral equivalent of not having a wheelchair-accessible entrance to your building. In a way, it’s worse (depending on what’s in the building), because while it costs a lot of money to pour a concrete ramp, not using Issuu is absolutely free.

Finally, although again it is a fact of the Internet that I will have to click several times to accomplish my browsing goals in any given scenario, it is never a good idea to add extraneous clicks. Forcing users who have just clicked a link (from Twitter, say, or from your home page) expecting to read a piece of writing to click again before they can do so is bad form and likely to cost you readers.

I would be remiss if I didn’t close by offering you a pair of possible alternatives. The first and most obvious is to use whatever web publishing platform you have in place to publish your magazine’s content—not just your blog and your “About” page.

The second is just to link to a PDF or, better, a series of PDFs, one for each piece in your magazine. This latter solution will get you out of some—not necessarily all—of the usability hurdles, and will be far better for both search-engine optimization and compatibility with technology used by the visually impaired (so long as the PDFs are well-formed). I would encourage you only to go this route if you have some very compelling reason to do so, and I can’t think of one.

As I mention it, I honestly don’t know what drove some of you to Issuu in the first place. If you felt like letting me know, I would be more than happy to help you think through (and possibly implement) other alternatives that more specifically address your needs.

Most sincerely,

P.S.: May I call you “lit mags” in any future correspondence?

77 thoughts on “Issues with Issuu: An Open Letter to Literary Magazines

  1. Harpo May 3, 2012 / 2:36 pm

    I agree that Issuu isn’t great, and your points about accessibility are well-taken, but I’m not sure how much experience you have with “lit mags” if you can’t see why it appeals to some.

    1) You can’t easily hotlink individual pieces of an Issuu magazine, you can’t steal out one individual PDF and rehost it, etc. You’ve got to link to the magazine itself, which is good for the editor and publisher, and allows their voice to be heard.

    2) PDF is broken and shitty and slow. You can’t control its initial display size, you can’t easily embed it in a web page, most of the time it brings up a download box. So it’s not really a workable solution for most magazines, and the few that use it (I think Kenyon Review Online, maybe a few others) clearly struggle with it. All of the points you make about Issuu having too many buttons, requiring extraneous clicks, etc. are true for PDFs.

    3) Issuu is designed to do two things that PDFs and other options can’t: one, force the magazine to a particular size, and two, get rid of scroll bars. This gets closer to magazine experience, and further from Web experience, and that’s good, because a magazine is a superior interface to the Web.

    3) It is important to some editors to make the point that a publication is a magazine, not a blog. The issuu format encourages readers to move through the document front to back, which is desirable for people who intentionally design their magazines for such an experience; there is also still a premium placed on print in the literary world (many Issuu magazines are trying to work their way into print).

    4) Issuu is cheap and easy to use. Apart from PDFs, which suck, it’s probably even easier to design a real-looking or good-looking magazine page in Issuu than it is in HTML/CSS/on WordPress. Literary magazines are made by heroic and talented volunteers: they have day jobs.

    I hope that people reading this take your suggestion as a call for something BETTER than Issuu, something that has the advantages of Issuu plus the portability and accessibility of PDF — it would not be hard to do, and I think services like Submittable have done a great job making a little bit of money off the niche needs of the literary world — but not a call to avoid Issuu until that better service appears.


    • devan May 3, 2012 / 2:48 pm

      Hi Harpo,

      Thanks very much for your thoughts. You’re quite right that my goal is a call for something better.

      One fascinating point of disconnect here is that I wasn’t talking about lit mags that *only* use Issuu; I was talking about lit mags that have their own websites and embed individual pieces using Issuu. I didn’t make that explicit because I had never come across a magazine with no website and its entire contents in Issuu—which is what you seem to be talking mostly about. I think their lack of visibility in my anecdotal universe, at least, speaks to my points about how Issuu makes a mag’s content hard to find.

      Let me address your points more directly:

      1. I disagree that the inability to link to individual pieces is a good thing. On the web, people are a lot less willing to invest time reading an entire publication. Like most web readers, I will read a single piece that looks interesting, but the barrier for me to sit down with an entire mag is much, much higher. However, if I *like* a single piece that I read, I am more likely to go back to that magazine in the future. This is how I discovered many fine magazines that I read today.

      2. I agree that PDFs are lousy, but I think they are better than Issuu. PDFs do require added learning, too, but most users know what to do because they come across PDFs so often. (If a great many websites used Issuu, people would learn that interface too. But PDFs are far, far more common.) Also worth noting that what happens on your system when you click a PDF link is totally up to the individual; most modern browsers on most platforms come with embedded viewing built-in. This has been true on Windows since, I think, XP?

      3. On what grounds do you claim that a magazine interface is superior to the web? I would completely disagree—unless we’re talking about a physical, printed magazine. But we’re not; we’re talking about reading at the computer, for which the web was designed and has been obviously very successful.

      4. Issuu is cheap and easy. But a site hosted at is nearly as cheap ($10/year for the domain, let’s say) and only minimally more difficult. And I’m well aware that lit mags are made by heroic and talented people; you can find out more about my own background in the “Editing” section at the bottom of my “Writing” page.

      Again—my goal is a call for something better; you and I just disagree about the extent to which that something better already exists, I think.



    • shaun March 11, 2014 / 4:06 pm

      ISSUU does not give me the feeling of reading a mag in any way at all (was it meant to look like a mag?!). It is a rubbish experience, I like a PDF viewer so that I can control what I see and do. I also prefer to stay on the site I stated at rather than being kicked off to another site…
      ISSUU is slow on my Mac.


  2. Krisma May 8, 2012 / 6:22 pm

    We use Issuu in conjunction with everything else. Still producing a PDF for people to download (at no cost) and, now, we’re creating individual pages for published work to hopefully help with web searches. But thanks for this great article; it gives much to think about!


    • devan May 8, 2012 / 6:27 pm

      Thanks for responding, Krisma. It’s great that you’ve been producing a PDF alongside Issuu for people who may prefer it, and I’m glad you’re working towards individual pages for published work! If you have any questions as you make decisions about how to put that structure in place, don’t hesitate to ask.


  3. Brent May 23, 2012 / 5:14 pm

    I am working on rebuilding our website on WordPress. Some of the people in our organization want something similar to Issuu which has the slick looking page turn effects, embedding capabilities, embedding audio/video in the document, and also clickable hotspots/links. I know HTML5 is fairly new and of course not fully adopted yet, but surprised someone hasn’t developed a nice embeddable reader. If you know of any, I would appreciate it.

    Also, thanks for talking me out of Issuu, after looking for any viable alternatives that actually work on multiple platforms and not finding anything we were almost ready to purchase Issuu. We are not a magazine company but we have hundreds of PDFs. I guess we will keep linking to the PDFs…

    Liked by 1 person

    • devan May 24, 2012 / 8:30 am

      Thanks for writing, Brent. Glad you’re working on rebuilding and staying away from Issuu.

      I would bet the reason there’s not an embeddable reader built with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript frameworks is that the kinds of people who tend to be experts in those things don’t like interfaces like Issuu’s that replicate older technologies.

      In fact, you may have heard the work “skeuomorphism” before; it simply describes that very practice of imitating old interfaces, designs, or materials in newer media. The biggest problems a lot of people have with skeuomorphic design are precisely the one I have with Issuu (which is skeuomorphic in replicating a magazine): The “neat” factor of a skeuomorophic design often comes at the expense of usability and aesthetic elegance.

      There’s a rich debate around skeuomorphism that’s been revived with Apple’s design updates in Snow Leopard to iCal and Address Book. I guess I would just say that in Issuu’s case, even if weren’t in Flash, the magazine-style interface would be just a nostalgic gesture that impeded usability, looked ugly, and stole search traffic from the content owners (sites like yours) on behalf of the content platform (Issuu).

      PDFs are not ideal, as discussed in previous comments, but they are better than Issuu, in my opinion at least. In the long run, depending on what’s in those PDFs, you could look into a gradual content migration project, moving the PDFs onto pages of their own starting with the most recent and working back through the archives. Again, a lot depends on what kind of site you’re running, what your users want and need, and so on. Feel free to get in touch with the details of your site if you’d like any more specific advice.

      (My email address is at the top of the right-hand column of this cite. It’s encoded to be spambot-resistant or else I’d just type it out here for you.)


  4. Kelly August 19, 2012 / 3:14 pm

    Many online magazines do not understand that their online magazine not being viewable on mobile devices is a big problem. My company has developed a Magazine tool that is both viewable and editable on mobile devices. Check out Dabble Mag.


    • devan August 20, 2012 / 7:00 am

      The platform Dabble‘s using certainly seems to be an improvement over Issuu on the question of mobile-friendliness. I would still have serious SEO and accessibility concerns about all the content being in images rather then appearing as text. I also don’t think the full-screen feature works as expected—and there are some other problems with Issuu that also apply to Dabble’s interface. As I would if the site used Issuu, I’d ask here why a well-staffed magazine wouldn’t simply present their articles as web content.


  5. Surajit September 4, 2012 / 8:16 am

    Isuu does have a lot of usability problems.
    I don’t see why people do not use simple jquery slider with wordpress full page templates. Looks good, and is friendly to anything and everything you can think of, including mobiles.
    Today, I use flash only for the reasons I primarily started using it – clipart and animations.
    While I do use flash readers, continuous version upgrades and other rendering issues can be a strain on browsers and hardware.
    Going back to the basics with simple html, css, and maximum jquery reduces a lot of pains in usability.
    That’s what I like about this website design in the first place.
    Could have added a lot of visual adjectives all around, but chose not to.
    Good. At least some people still retain balance.


    • devan September 5, 2012 / 11:38 am

      Hi Surajit,

      Thanks for these thoughts, and for the kind words on my site. I’ve described my “design” as an in-joke for usability wonks, and so it’s nice to have some confirmation that it’s working.

      My post was originally written for those who are often without the technical ability to implement jquery-based alternatives, but your points are well-taken and make me think the ideas here might be of broader interest. Glad to know it. Thanks!


  6. Gail September 26, 2012 / 1:04 am

    Hi Devan,

    The ONLY reason I put some of our journals on Issuu is for the page turning effect. I don’t know enough about this stuff to find another way to turn pages and researching with google and key words only resulted in finding

    We have more than enough storage space of our own, we just need help designing our journals so our audience can casually read them.




    • devan September 26, 2012 / 7:24 am

      Hi Gail,

      Thanks for the comment. I guess I’d put two questions to you:

      1. On the most basic level, why do your audiences come to your journals’ websites?
      2. What value does the page-turning effect have for your audiences?
      3. Does the page-turning effect have any downsides for your audiences?

      I believe that comprehensive answers to those questions will lead you to the conclusion that, at least, including the page-turning effect in your designs isn’t worth the trade-offs that Issuu brings. Beyond that, I think your answers should keep you from wanting the page-turning effect at all.

      As for alternatives, again, even the lowly PDF provides a better user experience than Issuu for most users, in my mind. But it’s just getting easier and easier to use a platform like WordPress to host and manage your content.

      In fact, a journal I helped start, Flywheel Magazine, runs on a customized installation of WordPress. Admittedly, I’m not much of a designer; I just want to point out that there’s a table of contents, a list of issues, a list of “articles” (stories, essays, and poems, in this case), and more features that help users get the best reading experience possible. I can’t think of any interface that would include some kind of page-turning without denying your users these browsing possibilities.

      The analytics for the site demonstrate that these features are useful. First, those tables of contents (including the homepage) make up three of the ten most-visited pages on the site and over 38% of the site’s traffic last month.

      More to the point, though, those table-of-contents pages have some of the lowest bounce rates on the site—an average, for the top three, of less than 20%. Put differently, 80% of people who visited one of the three T.O.C. pages mentioned above then visited another page on the site—the overwhelming majority viewing an individual story, poem or essay. Having a page like that delivers people to your content. That’s a model that endless page-flipping just can’t support.



      • Gail September 26, 2012 / 8:53 pm

        Hi Devan,

        I would guess I’m like many volunteers for non-profits… I have a tiny bit of knowledge about a number of different programs and no additional time in my life to learn any of them in a way that best gives me what I need.

        Our dog club FINALLY moved all our ancient html over to WordPress this year:

        Some of the material is updated versions of booklets we used to print and mail. I had in mind that they WERE books, they should stay books…with pages to turn.

        Also around the same time the American Kennel Club (AKC) stop publishing a hard copy of the AKC Gazette. This was a shock to “the dog community” as this monthly magazine has been published for more than 100 years. It not only contains articles of interest to dog owners in general, but specific organizational information as per the By-Laws of AKC it is the official form of communication to the member clubs.

        Now The Gazette is only available in digital form as (for example)
        or as a .pdf

        I felt if readers were used to flipping pages of The Gazette, it would make sense for us to use the same type of format.

        The other huge problem I had with the HTML version of our site was that I had pages of buttons to vendors we have commission relationships with to raise $$ for our rescue fund. It was suggested that I put them in some order in a catalog. I thought page flipping would be perfect for that as well and because I didn’t know how else to do it, put it on

        I’m VERY open to learning specific new things, especially formats that will serve our readers on hand held devices. I “just” need a file full of cheat sheets and not dozens of links to tutorials I’ll never have the time to work thru.

        Thanks so much for any suggestions,



        • devan September 27, 2012 / 8:50 am

          Hi Gail,

          I love that you were thinking about your visitors’ needs—something that so often doesn’t happen. I guess I’d want to push on this part of your thinking, if I were working with you on these sites:

          I felt if readers were used to flipping pages of The Gazette, it would make sense for us to use the same type of format.

          I’d argue that although your readers are accustomed to seeing your articles in magazine format, the more important point of habituation here is that when they come to a website, they’re used to seeing web content. This is the reason that big-name periodicals put their pieces up as web content, on pages rather than in magazine-style interfaces.

          If you want to go that route, which (as you’d guess) I’d encourage, you’ve got a few different ways to go. For things that used to be books, I would just go with PDFs. They’re smartphone- and search-engine friendly, accessible for those with disabilities, and more convenient for most users than learning to use something like Issuu (and being forced to switch to a full-screen interface). They’re also downloadable and printable for those in your audience who may care to look at a hard copy.

          For something like the shopping catalog, it’s great that you’re already familiar with WordPress, as that’s what I’d use to handle this content. I’d make a page called “Shopping Catalog” on the KFA site. On that page, you’d have a sentence or two about what’s in the catalog and then a link to each category in the catalog. When I click one of those links, I go to a subsidiary page, also created in WordPress, containing all the logos in that category. Each logo, in turn, would be hyperlinked to the corresponding site. Again, this approach is easier for users of all devices and physical abilities—and way better for your search engine results.

          Hope you find these thoughts helpful. If you have any questions about them, don’t hesitate to email me; my address appears at the top of the sidebar to the right.



          • Gail September 27, 2012 / 4:26 pm

            Thanks so VERY MUCH for your advice Devan. When is someone going to come up with the app to add more hours to my day???

            Take care,



          • devan September 27, 2012 / 5:17 pm

            No problem Gail. Good luck!


  7. Michael October 16, 2012 / 12:49 pm

    Thought provoking post.

    Because it hasn’t been addressed since the publish date of the original post five months ago, I wanted to let you and others know that Issuu released their mobile version (it’s still in beta) recently which doesn’t require Flash and works well on IOS.

    That should take care of most of your concerns.

    Your other concerns have some merit, especially for a magazine that is text focused. But if you have a magazine that requires a lot of photos then that’s another matter altogether.

    While I’m somewhat in agreement with you on the usability side of things (I’ve conducted a good number of usability studies), I have a tendency to withhold any comment regarding usability without actually doing any testing. I’ve seen a multitude of theories destroyed after a good round of user testing. But on the surface there are a few things that raise red flags based on an ad-hoc review of the Issuu interface.

    Your comment regarding more than one click is more of a personal issue. People don’t mind clicking as much as they used to (except for those annoying so-called slideshows a lot of the publishers are using to sell more advertising). It is also a technical matter. In order to launch the magazine it has to pass through JavaScript. You can’t do that from a link on Twitter.

    I’m 100% in agreement on the 508 compliance issue. In fact I think I’ve seen a few universities express this concern with Issuu. But if you’re that interested in addressing the needs of the visually impaired then you should be offering an alternate version reformatted in a more accessible format anyway. Something a PDF is not going to address for most publications. It should be a simple web page with text. This isn’t that difficult to do and one we are looking to implement in our workflow in the future.

    Good post nonetheless. Especially if you’re a literary magazine. If that’s what we published I wouldn’t look twice at Issuu. I’d be publishing 100% on WordPress and use a service like MagCloud for print subscribers.

    Thanks again for the post.


    • devan November 9, 2012 / 9:17 am

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply, and sorry again for the delay. I’ll try to respond to each of your points below.

      First, on the mobile question: As far as I can tell, Issuu has launched an Android app and an HTML5 version that works on iPads—but I can’t find any evidence that there’s an app or web version that works on the iPhone. Checking a few sites that I know use Issuu from my own iPhone confirms that the content is still rendering in Flash, which is to say, not rendering. (I don’t have an iPad handy to check on this.)

      In fact, it seems that Issuu’s alternative forms don’t seem to be intended to work on sites other than—again the wrong distribution model, if you ask me, for a magazine. It’s fine to have supplementary distribution through a newsstand model, but if your mobile users can’t find your content on your own site, that’s a problem.

      I agree a photo-heavy magazine might want a different interface for viewing content. I’m not willing to make too aggressive a claim here, but I can’t imagine the page-turning interface is the best case there, either. I’m short on time to propose alternatives, but I’ll just say for now that the web has spent the better part of fifteen years working on the problem of how to display text and images together in a format that works well for users and in browsers. I would much rather look into those than assume—as some people do, maybe not you—that the “old way” would work best in this new medium.

      For what it’s worth, even Apple, venerable champions of skeuomorphic design, have abandoned the page-turning model in the one place they have to contend with this sort of problem, iBooks. This piece on covers their reasons for thinking that scrolling is better than page-turning. The case isn’t perfectly analogous, but the analysis speaks to some of the same points I’m making here.

      Your point about withholding comment absent conducting research is well-taken; I didn’t support my claims above with any findings but I’ll say here that the post was informed by my tests of several different kinds of paging and browsing interfaces over the last few years. That said, those tests were small components of larger studies, not the focus of the research—and my own gut feelings also certainly play a role, a more primary one, in my arguments. So there’s plenty of room for disagreement here.

      One the one-click question, I probably wasn’t clear enough there. I definitely don’t mean to imply that fewer clicks always means a better experience, only that, taken in context, the particular extra click I discuss seems to me like it would cause frustration. Which is to say, it does frustrate me and the small handful of people I surveyed informally for feedback here. I click something that tells me I’m about to read the content I want, and then I am pointedly not shown that content. It’s the details of that situation that make the click objectionable, though you’re right that I came too close to suggesting that all clicks are evil. (Naturally, I’m not sympathetic to the JavaScript issue you mention; to me, that’s just one more problem with the platform—not a good excuse to impair usability.)

      I am all for “a simple web page with text.” It is far and away the best model for the kinds of publications I’m trying to speak to in this post. The PDF fallback is a stop-gap compromise and should be taken as such. It’s like, if you cannot for technical or human-resource reasons immediately bring all your content into standard web forms, then I would recommend temporarily using PDFs instead of Issuu. But as I note above, it’s far from a perfect solution. You might think it’s irresponsible of me even to mention it, and I wouldn’t begrudge you that. It’s a close call for me.

      Anyway thanks again for your thoughts and for mentioning MagCloud—a great platform for the purposes you mention.



  8. Rasmus Landgreen October 19, 2012 / 5:19 am

    Interesting points Devan.

    There’s a big difference between serving web content and and simulating a magazine reading experience, to me it seems you’re adressing them as one. You paying that much tribute to Jakob Nielsen tells me it’s a discussion we’ll never finish 🙂

    To build websites like Flywheel Magazine and suggest PDF’s as the answer to online reading is catering more for accessibility than usability and user experience. You’re arguing they’re tied in with eachother closely, I don’t believe it’s like that. Donald Norman would win a game of design-chess with Jakob Nielsen any day in my world.

    Good post, awesome to see so many people discussing it.

    Rasmus @ Issuu


    • Dan Landrum November 1, 2012 / 11:33 am

      Thanks for the interesting article. How many people are aware that Issuu’s most important function, the searchability of your PDFs, stopped working nearly a year ago. Check it out for yourself. Upload something, the search function does not work at all, not for me, not for anyone. I’ve communicated extensively with their tech support team and only hear they’re aware of it, and are working on it. An extraordinary problem like this should be receiving extraordinary attention and communication. It has been broken for nearly a year, yet they still advertise it as a core function, and have made no public comments about it. Caveat emptor.


    • devan November 9, 2012 / 9:31 am

      Hi Rasmus,

      Thanks so much for chiming in, and sorry again for the delayed reply.

      I agree completely on “the big difference between serving web content and simulating a magazine reading experience.” I don’t intend to treat them as one, but to suggest that in my travels as a web usability and strategy professional, I haven’t come across any evidence that the latter approach has any real value for users—when you take into consideration the hurdles it throws in their way.

      Consider Issuu’s mobile instructions:

      When reading a publication on Issuu Mobile, there are a few important gestures to learn:

      Double-tap on text or drag your finger across it to enhance for mobile reading (using our EasyRead beta technology).
      Double-tap on images to zoom (currently only works for some images).
      Tap once to bring up the main navigation menu.
      Click the Menu button to bring up more actions.

      I just can’t see how a publisher would want to subject its readers to having to learn that system just in order to read the content they’re after. Neither can I identify a group of users that I’ve come across in the hundreds of web projects I’ve been a part of who would prefer such a system to simple reading.

      It’s not that there’s no value in collecting one’s reading material in the same place and under a uniform interface as and the Issuu Android app do. I use Instapaper and Reeder on both my phone and my laptop and love them both. My issue is specifically with the magazine-style interface that you’re promoting here. What are its merits? Who prefers it to more platform-native interactions? I feel that in the light of my challenges in the original post, the burden of proof that “It’s worth it” lies with Issuu. It’s not that I’m privileging accessibility over user experience; it’s that I believe Issuu provides a worse user experience than simple web content. Feature-richness doesn’t always yield a better user experience, just a more complex one.

      On Flywheel, let me just say that I am not a designer, as my own site’s look and feel (if you can call them that) should also suggest, and that was not a professional project—more like volunteer work. But I stand by the information architecture, usability, user experience, and accessibility of the site as better than they would be with Issuu in play (at least as it was when I left it a year ago; I don’t think it’s changed much since).

      Let’s also be clear on PDFs, finally: I don’t suggest them as any kind of long-term solution. I suggest them as a last-ditch stop-gap that for very specific reasons elucidated above is better for readers of literary magazines than Issuu.

      Thanks again for writing, and I hope you won’t hesitate to write again, should you find the time. I’m especially interested in hearing about any research that contradicts one of my central points, that the page-turning experience isn’t appealing to users.



      • Rasmus Landgreen August 22, 2013 / 9:35 am

        Wow, it’s already been half a year 🙂 Thanks for replying, though.

        I don’t think the page-flipping, glossy magazine-imitating solution provides a “better” User Experience. “Better” as in more effective, intuitive and all that jazz. I think it emulates the real world feel, and the joy of flipping through a cool magazine where things as paper quality, ink, etc. matters. We can’t get there fully, but we can do our best.

        I don’t know if you ever tried getting some of your own written work sent to you, freshly printed, wrapped in brown paper. The feeling of getting what was once on screen in your hands is just amazing. Uploading things to Issuu gives kind of the same thrill. It feels as the flat InDesign document comes to life. And that’s where the power is.

        At least. That’s what I believe 🙂

        I can’t and won’t contradict your points, I think they’re valid – but I also consider the term “User Experience” to be way deeper than what’s easy to use.

        I’ll be back in another 6 months.


  9. Dylan Kinnett November 1, 2012 / 2:18 pm

    This is definitely an important concern. Can we have the functionality that ISSUU provides without compromising usability? Keep me posted on those alternatives. Until then, ISSUU it is, I’m afraid. Or, perhaps the PDF alone is sufficient?


    • devan November 9, 2012 / 9:50 am

      Hi Dylan,

      I’m not really in the market for alternatives as I don’t see good evidence for the value of the page-turning interface. If there are other pieces of the functionality that appeal to you, let me know and I’ll see what I can find.

      I mean the PDF suggestion as a temporary alternative to Issuu when a plan is in place to present all content as web content—on web pages with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, perhaps generated by a content management system or blogging platform, as the case may be.



  10. Juan November 1, 2012 / 4:50 pm

    It may help some and maybe issuu is gonna fix it, but for now you can embed using an iframe and the magazine address followed by ?mode=mobile as this:

    It loads in mobiles like a charm, but in desktop shows the pc version with advertising.

    It works good but if you know how to make the iframe to think it’s always in a mobile browser, could be nice to avoid the advertising in desktop. Maybe changing the HTTP_USER_AGENT variable?


  11. Juan November 1, 2012 / 4:52 pm

    ouch the code didn’t remains in the last message:

    iframe width=”850px” height=”580px” src=”” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen


    • devan November 9, 2012 / 9:51 am

      Thanks Juan. Got an example of a site where this is in use? I’d be interested in seeing (and discussing) which of the problems I list above it addresses.



  12. devan November 9, 2012 / 8:52 am

    Hi all,

    Thanks for the comments over the last few weeks. I wanted to apologize for my delayed reply to all of you at once; my wife and I had our first child a few weeks ago and I’ve been mostly without large chunks of time till the last few days. I’m hoping to go back through and respond to each of you now, but failing that, I’ll be in touch as soon as I can. Glad to have your thoughts.



  13. Lark November 11, 2012 / 11:09 pm


    What is the software or program you’re using for Dabble Mag. It looks great. It is exactly how I want my community newspaper to look. I’ve been looking for an alternative to Issuu. Please share.



    • devan November 12, 2012 / 12:47 am

      Hi Lark,

      I think you’ve got the wrong impression. I don’t run Dabble and have no idea what platform they’re using. As noted, though, I do have several concerns about it and couldn’t recommend it. (I’d add to the above note that I failed to view the magazine content on my iPhone.)

      I hope you’ll consider putting your content on standard web pages, for the sake of the users in your community. As noted, I expect they’ll prioritize easy access, mobile usability, and decent search placement on Google more than the ability to flip pages.



  14. George November 12, 2012 / 6:38 am

    Interested in this discussion as we too are looking for an alternative to issuu.

    The closest is magcloud. The reason why we haven’t yet made the switch is that there’s no way currently to rebrand the page that readers view or buy from. And I don’t fancy having MagCloud sprawled all over the page. Just doesn’t look or feel right.


  15. Carol November 24, 2012 / 8:24 am


    Thanks for this interesting post on Issuu. I have been considering them as a platform but have had some concerns and trying to find alternatives. I basically need the page turning effect for displaying wedding albums on my website. I do have some PDF downloads that are text heavy and I would want these to be SEO optimized, but after reading this post, I will stick to a regular PDF download for those until I find a better alternative- perhaps Mag Cloud. The wedding albums however are photo heavy and are more for esthetics and showing sample layouts on my site so for this purpose I think Issuu may be fine but if I can find a better alternative, I’m interested. I did find a service called Uberflip- do you have any feedback on their services? Not sure I like their payment structure.

    Thanks again for an informative post.


    • devan December 4, 2012 / 8:15 pm

      Hi Carol,

      You’re quite welcome—I’m glad you found the post helpful. You raise an interesting case, where your prospective clients might be attached to browsing your work in album format. It’s just the kind of audience for whom a sentimental attachment to the format might be in play (unlike people reading stories, poems, and essays in a literary magazine, my initial topic for the post). So thanks for commenting.

      I don’t know of a good alternative and haven’t looked into Uberflip, but what I would do if I were you is find another photographer outside your own market whose site you like and ask what they use and whether they’re happy with it. (Perhaps this is how you found Uberflip and you don’t need any more advice from me!)

      Ordinarily I’d do a little further investigation, but we’ve got a pretty new baby at home, so I’ll just have to wish you luck. If you haven’t found anything you’re happy with after a few more weeks have gone by, feel free to check back in or email me. (My address is near the top-right corner of this page.)



  16. Jeannie Barker December 4, 2012 / 2:42 am

    Has anyone tried HPs MagCloud?

    You can view the PDF magazine online or via the app; download the PDF; set a price for the digital and print version if you wish.

    I am planning to launch a new magazine in January. I will be using WordPress, publishing all the separate articles as posts, having a contents page linking to all the posts… and also providing an alternative viewing / download option with HP MagCloud and I may even publish it on ISSUU as well – despite ISSUU’s issues, it’s another option to get the content out there and if people stumble across it there, they may then come to my website.


    • devan December 4, 2012 / 8:23 pm

      Hi Jeannie,

      MagCloud certain seems to be coming up often. I’m also interested to hear how it works for people and whether it suffers from the same problems I discuss for Issuu.

      Meanwhile, I’m so glad to hear you’ll be using WordPress and some alternative or alternatives that you think might help improve your content’s findability. Depending on the kind of magazine you’re launching, you might also look into LitRagger, a new platform for literary magazines.



  17. Maureen December 24, 2012 / 5:45 am

    A lot to think about!!

    What’s your opinion on Pressmart? Would love your review on this.

    I must admit as well, the page turning feature is very appealing to the user experience.



    • devan December 26, 2012 / 11:15 am

      Hi Maureen,

      I don’t know Pressmart, and I’m not really researching alternatives as I don’t see good evidence for the value of the page-turning interface outside certain rare cases—none of which are magazines of any kind. If you must use a page-turning interface, I hope you’ll consider it as a supplement to standard web content rather than a replacement.



  18. AfroMerry January 3, 2013 / 4:59 pm

    Very interesting discussions going on here. I’ve read all the arguments made by every one and would think carefully about them while weighing the ups and downs. Issuu is an attractive platform though, but as you and some have argued, there are minus points. Thanks for this post and generating an argument about this topic.


  19. Bruce January 29, 2013 / 11:35 pm

    Easy solution. Stop being a mac fanboy and use something that actually works. You ask a minority of users to abandon a site because you enjoy inferior products. Makes sense to me.

    Android, linux, windows. Pick one and stop whining.


    • devan January 30, 2013 / 5:23 am


      I’m sorry that you felt you had to take such an unkind tone to make your points, but I’m going to address them anyway since you’re the first to bring them up. I’d be happy to continue the conversation with you after that if you can respond with more civility.

      I take you to be saying that I am a “mac fanboy”, and that my bias towards Apple products leads me to make unfair recommendations to abandon Issuu.

      So, to the first clause, different people sometimes mean different things by “fanboy,” but I will only note that I spend much more time on this site being critical of Apple—than praising them. These are the only three posts on the site, I believe, that address Apple in any depth:

      You can decide for yourself, since I guess fanboyism is in the eye of the beholder, but I think it’s clear I have a lot of complaints about Mac and iOS products. In fact, until a move into a smaller space a few years ago, I kept a Linux media server in my house—and I still have a dual-boot setup on my main machine.

      At any rate, to argue that my appreciation of Mac products biases me is probably fallacious, since I make very specific claims you could take issue with if you thought they were off the mark.

      As it happens, only two claims I make in the post has anything to do with platform: Those are the two claims—out of nine, by my count—that Flash doesn’t play well with iOS and the Mac OS, respectively.

      So, first, let’s talk about those two claims. Again, your argument is that some needless devotion to Apple products is blinding me here. But whatever platform (or platforms) I happen to use, iOS devices command almost one-quarter of the domestic cellphone market and over half of the tablet market.

      Again, regardless of my own choice of platform, I could not recommend that my clients or the literary magazines I love use Issuu, and in fact, I’d have to caution them against it.

      But second, let’s say for simplicity I just rescinded those claims. That still leaves seven reasons that I obviously find compelling for lit mags not to use Issuu. If you have thoughts on those, I hope you’ll feel free to share them—again, with a little bit more interest in earnest conversation motivating you.



  20. Sarah Keen April 4, 2013 / 6:31 am

    Dear Devon,
    I want to say *thank you* for posting this comment. I am redesigning my website and wanted to embed a book (complete with page turning look and feel) on my wordpress site. I was getting excited about Issuu and its easy embed code to existing document. However I need my site to display well on tablets/smart phones etc. Clearly if Issuu uses Flash, this is not the tool for me. Thanks for flagging this up. Back to jQuery I guess.
    Best wishes


    • devan April 4, 2013 / 6:45 am

      You are quite welcome Sarah! I’m glad to have been helpful.

      Also, depending on your particular needs, you might consider a more portable method, like a PDF or an eBook.

      (I’m struggling to imagine a case where somebody would prefer to read an entire book in their browser rather than in one of the desktop or mobile applications designed for such things.)

      Just a thought. Good luck!


  21. Eric May 26, 2013 / 12:44 pm

    I currently faced similar problem and im thinking about how i can come up with a solution .I just wondering do you think a reader that is portable, SEO friendly and is mobile aware would help ?


    • devan May 27, 2013 / 12:54 pm

      Hi Eric—A reader that does all those things wold certainly help with the specific issues you mention, but there are more that going with a reader experience (as opposed to standard web content on standard web pages) introduces. If it were me, in most cases, I’d avoid this kind of setup.


      • Eric May 28, 2013 / 1:38 pm

        Are you saying that we should avoid all these readers together and go for just web? I’m curious, since i thought that there ought to be a solution. First let me ask what is your idea solution (apart from pure wordpress setup)


        • devan May 30, 2013 / 6:23 am

          What’s wrong with a pure WordPress setup? In other words, what evidence do you have that these readers make a better experience for your users? I think the burden of proof is on the one who wants to add the complex feature set…


  22. Daniel June 10, 2013 / 7:52 pm

    I think the even bigger issue with Issuu is the extremely inappropriate content that will surround yours. A big corporate client of ours is hosting some reports on Issuu, with soft pron and pirate copies of legit mags.

    I love magazines and I love books, but my screen doesn’t have leaves to flip.


    • devan June 11, 2013 / 11:05 am

      That’s a great point, Daniel. I was focused mostly on Issuu embeds in one’s own site, but when users view your content on the site itself, you lose a lot of control over the context in which they view it.


  23. DoD Marketing June 20, 2013 / 9:31 am

    To say that ISSUU has caused a problem for my organization, is a huge understatement. In fact, I’ll just show you the letter that I had to write to the military chain of command that I work for just this morning:

    We, in the *** Marketing Department were shocked and disappointed this morning to learn that inappropriate content was being advertised in conjunction with our publication “*****.” Our department recently procured a well-known, digital page-turning service via Through this service, the format of yesterday’s **** included links within the user interface that were advertised as “Related Publications”, one of which contained an inappropriate graphic image – which is obviously not in keeping with the mission and values that we are here to uphold. This image was automatically included, NOT by our department, but by the service provider, ISSUU. Obviously, we will not allow this to happen again, even if it means cancelling our service with the site.

    Until we can determine the best course of action, yesterday’s issue of **** has been removed entirely from the site. However, most computers retain a “cache” of previously visited sites (separate from the “history” log) that will enable previous viewers to see the content for a short while longer. We sincerely regret this incident and are working diligently to ensure that this is resolved, permanently.

    Today? I’ll be shopping around for a better place to spend these government dollars.


    • devan June 24, 2013 / 12:36 pm

      Yikes! That is horrific. I hope you find some other way to get what you need.


    • Nicole October 16, 2013 / 5:39 am

      This is exact our problem. Did you find another site to use?


      • Christopher November 6, 2013 / 4:27 am

        If you subscribe to the paid service, these related publications won’t appear.

        We had this issue, also once you get more items up – on the related items if you access through issuu directly – it improves the recommendations once you have more items up.


  24. Tat July 16, 2013 / 12:55 pm

    Hi Devan,

    I would like to thank you for this very helpful discussion.

    I’m looking into making a big collection of case studies in a series of publications (virtual library) I wanted to give it the magazine “look” for them to be more “fun” for non academics. I found Issuu to be very easy to use and the publications look really sleek.

    However, I’m a bit concerned the searchability, related publications and the fact that is not mobile.
    Could you please point me towards any possible, more adequate platforms?


    • Tat July 16, 2013 / 1:02 pm

      I forgot to mention, I’m not entirely sure what you mean by using “PDF instead’, would you mind showing an example? I mean the documents you upload in Issuu are PDF (…) cunfused :s


    • devan July 19, 2013 / 10:17 am

      Hi Tat,

      Sorry for the delayed reply. I’m glad my piece is helpful, and I’m glad you’re thinking about some of the shortcomings of Issuu.

      Rather than point you towards better magazine-esque platforms (if there are any), I would suggest that you provide a more web-native, accessible interface to the content.

      What makes people feel good about a website, above all, is not a “fun” interface—and I put it in quotation marks because not everybody finds the magazine style fun in the first place—but easily completing the task (and perhaps doing so in an elegant-looking environment).

      If your audiences will come to your website knowing the kind of information they’re looking for, then a simple, well-organized list of PDFs would suffice (though a searchable, sortable, and filterable database of publications in the virtual library would probably be even better).

      (Note: When I talk about using PDFs instead, I mean simply linking from a web page to a PDF file, more or less like the “Download PDF” links on Toyota’s website.)

      If some or most of your visitors will be stumbling upon your virtual library and need to be shown their way to certain articles of interest, then there is some need to feature representative samples of the publications you’re hosting.

      However, even then, a magazine-style interface is likely to hurt more than it helps. Other options for highlighting certain content include pages like these, ranging from the very simple and to the very complex (in terms of the functionality involved):

      The list of favored posts on my own homepageThe Research page on Arkansas State’s websiteThe Articles page on the Nielsen Norman Group website

      I hope you find these thoughts helpful, too.


  25. rob July 30, 2013 / 4:52 pm

    I am currently searching for websites and other places to put our magazine to reach a broader audience. I need to find the best places where I can see the monetary gains. I have recently discovered Issuu but I cannot seem to figure out how I would make money by putting our magazine on their website.


    • devan July 31, 2013 / 7:10 am

      Hi Rob,

      I can’t say that’s a business model I’m too familiar with, so I probably won’t be much help to you. But no, I don’t see a path from magazine-platform sites to direct revenue either. (I don’t think that’s the promise they make, for what it’s worth.)



  26. Boris August 20, 2013 / 5:08 am

    Hi Devan

    Issuu aren’t cheap either as someone suggested. They were when we signed up or the pro service. $19 a month was incredibly cheap for what we wanted, which was a flippy mag that we could either embed on our site (our site only) or publish via e-mail a private link. So all our documents are private (over 300). They decided without any discussion last month to restrict this to 5 copies and now charge us $199 a month for the priviledge of keeping our documents private just because THEY decided that their platform is for public publications which blatantly isn’t what we signed up to in the first place.

    As soon as I can convince my boss to drop this sad excuse for a service (by the way customer service isn’t something they supply either, have a look at their getsatisfaction customer community) I will.


    • Eric August 29, 2013 / 11:38 am

      Hi Boris,It is quite sad to hear that you were chargeper month for making your publications “private” .Hopefully a better solution will come one of these days.


  27. Anne Kleinberg October 12, 2013 / 5:06 am

    Hi Devan,

    Wow – within the last three hours I decided to go on-line with a magazine for the over-50
    woman (that I’ve been planning for four years); discovered Issuu and was told that it was
    the only safe way to guarantee that my content won’t be stolen, and then discovered you
    and this valuable thread.

    Now I’m really confused!

    I have several WordPress sites and love working with the system. The reason I thought
    to head off in another direction was because the over-50 target audience might relate better
    to the visual feel of a “real” magazine, rather than the blog format. And the security factor
    seemed considerable if indeed content can be easily stolen off a blog. But as I am a dedicated
    life-long Mac user, I understand there are serious fallbacks if the systems relies on flash.

    And… although admittedly I have not done enough research, I would like to eventually offer
    advertising in the magazine and I don’t know if that option is available through Issuu.

    I would be very grateful for your comments and thoughts-

    Many thanks,


  28. Skweekah November 27, 2013 / 6:51 am

    Actually, you’d be quite surprised what you can do with PDF’s in terms of presentation. There are a number of publishing options available if you want to be a bit more fancy. To be quite honest, when it comes to a document, forms etc, give me a PDF. Would I be overgeneralising when I say that Issuu isnt too popular with web devs and web admins and seems to impress the non-technicals who have little understanding in potential negatives of implementing something like this?


  29. Kerry Ross Boren January 14, 2014 / 4:01 pm

    No one seems to be mentioning the fact that Issuu pirates private material and publishes it in total disregard to copyright and without the knowledge or permission of the author. My book was thus pirated and I have yet to resolve the issue with this company. It may need to go to litigation. Avoid!!


    • Chris February 18, 2014 / 5:23 am

      Issuu is a real company, they can’t pirate private material. Maybe someone else stole and uploaded your material, but not Issuu. Did you upload to Issuu? If so, they have the right to use your material in promotions. But aside from that, they can’t take private material that’s not uploaded to them.


  30. Chris February 18, 2014 / 5:28 am

    Devan, what are your views on Issuu now? I just pulled it up on my iPad’s browser and it works pretty well. No flash.

    As far as the control thing… play, pause, skip, those icons have been around since tape decks and CD players. I don’t see how it’s something new that has to be learned. I always tap my arrow keys on my keyboard or try a swipe on my iPad when in any full screen mode.

    All in all, unless they change their free service, Issuu seems a pretty good service. I think I might try it.


  31. Nancy March 6, 2014 / 3:18 pm

    The article and comments have been very interesting. We have been using issuu for a couple of years to host a nicely designed annual report. What we are coming up against now as users are more mobile, more savvy, less patient, is that the font rendering in issuu and most other magazine readers is extremely poor unless you zoom in on the text. This means users have a smaller window of legible text to read and may need to scroll down, across, up, or over in chunks, depending on the column flow of your page. So what issuu is offering is a “wow” experience in terms of seeing a “magazine” on your screen, but you cant actually read the content without losing the lovingly designed layout. Perhaps its time to put all that design work into a beautiful website that works at any magnification.


    • Anonymous March 6, 2014 / 8:47 pm

      Thanks Nancy, it’s nice to see a recent response that discusses the real world usability of Issuu. So it sounds like it’s improved greatly from when this article was written, but still needs a bit of tweaking. Would you rate it pretty high for a free service?


      • Chris March 6, 2014 / 8:48 pm

        That response was from me, btw.


  32. Pingback:
  33. Bill Seeley August 7, 2015 / 3:08 pm

    Very interesting. I need to put a slight twist on this discussion. My company publishes a catalog of jewelry related products. Some years ago managment decided to move the catalog to Issuu. We now have literally no search ranking at all! When I search on our products I only see my customers that use them and pages of them. What to do? For years we published to our own web site. Remember Page Maker? We were always well up in the top of searches. This is about salesn not just finding the publication. A customer needs to be able to search on an item and end up in our catalog. Is the only choice to go back to a hosted web site wiith the catalog and drop Issu?
    Thanks for your thoughts. Bill


    • devangoldstein August 10, 2015 / 7:20 am

      Oof. That sounds like trouble. Because your products’ names aren’t mostly branded, you won’t necessarily find it easy to recapture any of that search traffic by including those names on your website.

      It’s not like you’re selling Doritos®, where the website for that product specifically can count on being #1. You’re equivalent search term would be something more like “corn chips,” which is harder to win. And your catalog is too big to reproduce all the likely search terms on your website.

      What I would do is, yes, make the strong business case to your leadership that you go back to hosting your own catalog. Or look for e-commerce services that can host the catalog for you, but in HTML, with images and text readable by humans (including those using mobile Safari on iOS) and search-engine crawlers alike.

      What Issuu may be saving you in person-hours, it seems more than likely to be costing you in lost search traffic. And of course, you can’t make a purchase transaction from an Issue catalog either, can you?

      I’m not aware enough of the landscape of online catalog services out there, but I’m sure some googling and sales inquiries (or an RFP, if you’re big enough) will help get you to the right provider. Good luck!


      • Bill Seeley August 10, 2015 / 11:36 am

        I have contacted Word Press (not an easy proposition as there is no direct way to ask a question). I have asked what it would take to move the existing catalog contents, structure, links and all in it’s PDF format to their structure. Do not look forward to having to rebuild the whole thing. It all started in Page Maker as a printed catalog and has been moved and adapted through half a dozen structures. Awaiting a response from them. Thanks again, Bill


        • devangoldstein August 10, 2015 / 11:49 am

          Right — it would certainly be a lot of work, and in your case, I don’t think WordPress alone will serve you perfectly well. Your content is what you might call structured content, in that each item has a specific set of information that goes with it (e.g., name, description, price, etc.), and that structure is common to all or most products (at least within a given category). WordPress — without third-party plug-ins — is best for unstructured content. So you’d likely be looking at WordPress plus a third-party e-commerce plugin, but WordPress isn’t likely to want to help you with those plugins. So there’ll be a good bit of research and some light technical expertise required there. But other e-commerce platforms can likely help you more easily out of the box. Again, I’m not enough of an expert in the space to be able to recommend anything in particular, but I’d start by googling “ecommerce platform” and maybe adding a keyword like “manufacturing” (or whatever most accurately describes the industry you’re in).


  34. Bill Seeley August 10, 2015 / 10:39 am

    Thank you. Exactly what I was thinking. A mistake from the beginning and now the battle to reestablish our position. Thanks again. Bill


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